Friday, February 26, 2010

To She or Not to She

How do you create an original character? I find many authors create characters that they can relate too, because they better understand them. It's easier to write about something you understand. I find I, usually, write female leads with strong personalities who's lives aren't going well for one reason or another. I do this because I can get that point of view.

But that's just a start. There's backstory required to give reasons for things, and the character has to fit the plot. They have to react reasonably and believably to situations. This takes a lot of careful consideration.

For instance, the last novel I wrote my female character was in her teens (at the start of the story, she grew through her twenties by the end); she was a bit shy and introverted; she liked her own company and didn't mind not having friends - good, because for most of the story people shun her thinking she's weird - but should could also have a strong personality. She wasn't afraid to stand up for her beliefs - important since she found herself often in situations unusual for a young single woman - but she would never go so far as to change the status quo. Basically, she fit the plot of the story well, while still have a definitive backstory before the plot began. She reacted to things as you would expect someone in that situation to react. She also thought and spoke very much like I do. It made her easy to write. I could look at things through her eyes.

I find I don't create characters the same way twice. Sometimes I have an entire plot of a story before I have the lead. Other times, I have a lead and no story for them. Usually it's somewhere in between. You need the character to fit the situation and vice versa. Even more than that, you need a character that can act with other characters. Whether it's against or with, doesn't really matter, but they have to be able to interact. The character I mentioned above, for instance, likes being on her own, but does interact with others. Some of them she doesn't get along with so she goes to others for help and understanding, which progresses the plot.

It's so much harder than that. I'm going to talk a great deal about the character I'm creating for this years NaNo. I'm going to do that because, beyond a name and a few general background characteristics, I have no concept of her. So, you can watch her unfold as we go and hopefully by November she'll be a fully rounded character within the larger plot.

I hope.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Wonderful World of Editing

This is not a post about NaNo 2010. Rather, it's all about the lingering joys of 2009.

I should, at this venture, point out that in the month of November last year I wrote the required 50,000 words, plus 3000. Between November 30th and December 31st, I wrote a grand total of 2000 words. In January I did slightly better, but I did not complete the story until the first week of February 2010. It bugged me all through December, because I had so many hours of work and it was the Christmas season. I just came home exhausted at the end of the day and couldn't face writing the hardest part of the novel. Interestingly, it bugged me for different reasons than I would have thought. Mainly, not being able to write in December made me irritable because I wanted to finish the story and was unable to. Unfortunately, by January, the drive that had pushed me all through November was waning, and I attribute that to why it took another five weeks after Christmas to punch out the last 12,000 words.

I really have to be fair with myself, though; 12,000 words is an achievement all on it's own. That is roughly the word count of my last dissertation, which was written last summer. Which means, ignoring everything else I wrote, that between the novel and the thesis alone, I spewed out 67,000 words (ironically, the total word count of the novel as of now). I feel that that's a pretty large accomplishment. And they are 67k good words. At least, I am assured the 12k of the dissertation is, by my mark alone. But I felt, over 2009, that writing was becoming easier for me. It wasn't such a challenge when I hit the rough patches to keep going. And more than that, especially during November, I found I could force myself to write even when I woke up with no interest in writing. For many years I have only written on days I felt inclined, whether creatively or for school, but I know it's a personal achievement that I can do it at anytime now. And that it's honestly worthwhile writing.

But this post was intended to be more about editing than writing, wasn't it? To have the need to edit is something new to me, as I mentioned in the previous blog. I am usually quite happy with what I turn out the first time. The exceptions to this have been the two dissertations over the last 24 months. The first one, which clocked in at just shy of 20k was a bitch, to be honest. It was my first massive work in such a short period of time and I just sat down and wrote. Usually, I pick away at it, and therefore edit - to an extent - as I go. No so with that one. Because of that, there was a painful three weeks of intense editing with an actual editor. It was a learning curve, to be sure. I pride myself on being both a good speller and marginally better than the average person at grammar. It was a wake up call to be told, almost point blank, that I'm horrible at the grammar part. However, it was a good learning experience and paid off well this past year on the second dissertation. I felt that it was easier to write and easier to edit on my own. It also required a great deal less editing to start with, which I hope is the greatest sign of improvement.

I also believe it's held me in good stead for NaNo '09. I won't talk much about that novel in this blog, because I want to concentrate on the next one, but I have just finished editing last year's still untitled work. Most of the changes were for continuity's sake. I shouldn't be greatly surprised by this because in a 65k+ work, it's inevitable that you forget a name here or an order of events there. Or you realise you've written the same scene twice, just at different moments. I now know that I need to keep better track of what I've written for 2010. Maybe a diary or a list of points? I'm not sure, but I have time to think on it and decide what will work best for me. I don't want to create too much extra work during November beyond the novel itself, but I do need some way to ensure plot continuity.

What I found the most difficult was tense. I've written a variety of stories using different tenses, and I've dabbled in time travel before, but this was even harder. The story took place in nearly a dozen different times, and jumped around in no particular order through them. However, two sub-plots did take place on a lateral time line, throughout the main story. I had to ensure that these remained in the same tense, but that they routinely linked up with the tenses that were jumping around. A right nightmare! No more time travel, that's my lesson learned. Still, I think I've done an admirable job of editing on my own. Now, I can slowly funnel it off to other people who will be in charge of telling me how bad it is, how confused they are, and how I should just give up now.

I won't listen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Writer's Introduction

It seems to me that there is no advisable way to begin a blog. I mean, everyone uses a blog for different purposes, so deciding on one set format defeats the purpose. As such, I am at something of a loss of how to begin, so please bear with me.

I am one of the older members of Generation Y. I remember - though it's hard to believe - a time before the internet existed in every home and the average eight-year-old carried an iPhone. I remember those days with longing you have to understand, because life was a great deal less...public than it is now. So why create a public blog? Despite the fact that I remember DOS based programs and that some of my earliest technological memories were fiddling with ancient Mac computers in the days before Microsoft owned the world, I love technology. I adore the simple fact that I can interact -in real time - with my friends half way around the world. I'm obsessed with online MBs and social media sites. I am, there can be no doubt, a TwitterHolic. I have embraced the modern digital age with all the energy of today's eight-year-old iPhoners.

For example, I have had a blog in the form of a LiveJournal for the better part of eight years. I was heavily involved in message boards at the tender age of twelve before the parental terror of child pornos and kidnappers lurking in the background ever became an issue. I tweet from my phone. I update my Facebook profile more than once a day. And, having attempted on more than one occasion to do without the internet for a few days, have ultimately concluded I'd rather die. Like the rest of Generation Y, the lack of internet is, in a sense, a loss of part of our indentity and we never feel completely whole until we have it back again.

So, this morning I woke up with the hairbrained scheme of creating a proper blog for some purpose or other. At first, that purpose altogether escaped me. I have an LJ, which is used for such childish purposes as ranting about work, school and those friends who are not on LJ. I have an FB profile to tell all of my friends who could care less that I am still unemployed. And I have a Twitter account in order to regale my very small corner of the Twitterverse with museum related posts and - currently - an endless stream of declarations of tears over the 2010 Olympic Games. I should, at this juncture, point out that the tears are those of happiness over being a proud Canadian.

But, after a few hours of careful (not) consideration, I have decided to use this blog for one main purpose; which is to write about writing. As a currently unemployed-in-my field graduate, housesitting for my parents, and spending my evenings bemoaning the fact that I left my entire social life in England four months ago, I have reached a point in my life where I have time to write. I've been writing since I was twelve. I have dabbled (and plunged) into multiple fictional universes almost entirely not of my own creation and have emerged on the other side fifteenish years later with the ability to type 75 words a minute and write an entire essay on virtually no research. These are the two most useful skills for a person who survived seven years of university education and a rough estimate of fourty 2K+ essays and two 13K+ dissertations.

The following sentence is my only explanation for why, in October 2009, faced with no essays for the first time in memory, that I attempted and completed NaNo. That is, for the uninitiated, National Writing Month. It is an international challange to creative writers to write a 50,000+ novel within the thirty days of November. Last year, nearly 150,000 people participated. To win, all you have to do is reach 50K by the end of November 30th. At a total, on the last day, of 53,000 words I can count the adventure a success. The fact that the completed novel is now 67,000 words and still counting (editing) seems only an added mark of congratulations. But, having succeeded once I am determinted to do so again.

This year, I am beginning from scratch. NaNo 2009 was written with a complete novel idea that had been running around in my brain fully formed for the better part of two years and all I had to do was allow my fast typing fingers to dictate from my brain to the laptop in the span of four weeks. This year, I find myself devoid of any idea of any level of interest. The ultimate purpose of this blog is to work through the bad ideas for short stories to arrive - by October 2010 - at a good idea for a novel. It is also a way for me to document how I write, having never paid much attention at all to this topic before. I am one of those people who just writes - as this blog will have so far told you - and, if in the mood, deals with the editing later. More often then not, most things never get edited. I believe that a person does everything best the first time and further repetition will not make it better. Do it right the first time, yes?

Therefore, my project for this year, in the eight and a half months until NaNo 2010, is to document the creation of an idea; the planning of chapters and plot; and finally, to document how I write at the end of it.

Interspersed with these artistic ramblings will probably be the occasion career furthering project and - hopefully - a document of my own endevours to make my local museum a place worth visiting, just to keep things interesting.

I hope you join me for the ride.